Legend in residence: Composer Morten Lauridsen spends three days at NIU

Had Beethoven visited Northern Illinois University at the height of his musical career, teachers and music lovers from all over the region would have come to see him.

Similar is the case this week at NIU’s School of Music. Morten Lauridsen, an internationally revered composer and professor of composition, took residency at NIU for three days beginning Tuesday and ending tonight. His schedule was packed with time for interacting with students, alumni, area music educators and performances.

“Morten Lauridsen is one of the preeminent composers today and especially noted for his choral music,” said Paul Bauer, director of NIU’s School of Music. “It is rare we have a music professional of this caliber and this reputation, and so this is an extra special visit because of who the person is combined with the fact that he’s here for several days and not just a single performance.”

Deb Burdsall, a doctoral student at the University of Iowa who also maintains residence in Palatine, came to NIU Tuesday evening for a public concert featuring Lauridsen. Burdsall sings with the Chicago Master Singers choir and is a serious fan of Lauridsen’s work. She said it’s definitely as if Beethoven were at NIU.

“The fact that he’s in town; it’s amazing that he’s at Northern,” Burdsall said. “The whole music world revolves around six degrees of [Lauridsen].”

Eric Johnson, NIU’s director of choral activities, spoke of Lauridsen’s living legacy as a musician. It was Johnson who worked for months gaining support and funding to make this residency happen.

“Lauridsen is one of America’s greatest living composers,” Johnson said. “Bringing him to campus so he can share his music, thoughts on life and passion for beauty provides an opportunity for us all to touch history. Here is a man whose music will be performed long into the future.”

The beauty of this three-day residency, as opposed to a one-night performance, is the degree to which Lauridsen is able to interact with students and others. Johnson said Lauridsen has been gracious with his time, stopping to talk to students and reaching out to whomever is near.

Rob Campbell, a 2008 NIU music program alumnus and current music instructor for a performing arts center in Dixon, took part in a rehearsal with Lauridsen on Tuesday. The experience was one he’ll never forget, and one which left him pressed for words to express it.

“He’s masterful,” Campbell said. “It was just overwhelming.”

Campbell said it was unreal getting to talk with Lauridsen about his motivations and what goes into his music, and that he is so excited to take these stories back to his students.

Johnson said he’s already received e-mails from directors across the country who saw the Tuesday evening performance Webcast, all very impressed. The visit also has allowed the department to foster connections with area public schools and students, who Johnson said will connect the stature of Lauridsen with NIU’s program.

And besides his own preparations for this visit, students made quite a commitment as well. NIU’s Chamber Choir even came back early for the spring semester to do a Lauridsen “boot camp,” consisting of three days of rehearsing for eight hours each day.

The preparations paid off, as Lauridsen included praise for the program in his opening comments Tuesday evening.

“Lauridsen was blown away with the performing ensemble [Tuesday] night,” Johnson said. “His descriptors of ‘world class’ are not hyberbole.”

“Experiences like this put an exclamation point on the fact that our classical musical traditions should be a vibrant part of our lives today, and that our contemporary composers have much to offer.”


If you go

Morten Lauridsen's three-day residence at Northern Illinois University closes with an 8 p.m. performance tonight of his "Lux Aeterna" by the NIU Concert Choir and Philharmonic. Lauridsen also will deliver a free public lecture about the concert at 6:30 p.m.

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